By Gary Murray

Starring Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke and Keri Russell

Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Mark Bomback

Directed by Matt Reeves

Running time 130 min

MPAA Rating PG-13

Selig Film News Rating FULL PRICE


Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a surprise hit in 2011, a film that exceeded the expectations of both audiences and the press.  It made the Top Ten of many different year-end critic lists.  It was a box office blockbuster that sold millions on DVD.  The sequel is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

The story picks up a few years after the events of the last film.  Simian flu has decimated most of the planet.  The man-made virus has destroyed a good 90% of the humans and crumbled civilization.

The apes from the last film still live in the woods outside of San Francisco, building a society free of man. It has been years since they have seen a human and believe they are extinct.  The film opens with the apes hunting in a pack in the same way that wolves hunt.   

Everything changes when a caravan of human travelers encounters the ape compound. An exchange occurs between the two groups and an ape is shot.  Caesar (Andy Serkis) stops the altercation from escalating and tells the humans to go.   Now, both groups know that the other group exists.

The reason the humans have traveled into the woods is to restart the hydro-electric generator.  The conclave of virus-resistance survivors has been struggling to endure and they are almost out of other forms of power.  They need the power in order to survive and to try and contact other groups.

The leader of the council is Dreyfus (Gary Oldman).  Like most of the humans, he blames the apes for the simian flu and destroying the planet.  There is only one thought in his head, destroy all the apes.  The apes come to the city, letting the humans know they are not welcome in the woods.  The stand-off creates tensions without a bloody confrontation.

Malcolm (Jason Clarke) is amazed by the intelligence of Caesar.  He feels that he can reason with the ape, explaining their plight and securing their help.  He goes back into the woods with a small group that includes Ellie (Keri Russell).  They eventually convince Caesar to grant the human’s access to the power plant.  Caesar feels pity for the humans.

The other apes believe that helping the humans is a bad idea.  They are led by Koba (Toby Kebbell).  Koba was an experiment ape and he carries the scars of these torturous events.  Although he respects Caesar, he still has his own agenda for the future and does not trust mankind.  He sneaks into the human compound and discovers that they have a massive conclave of weapons.

The film becomes a chess match of the different groups, with many levels of mistrust and backstabbing.  It runs much more along the lines of high-concept than simple action feature.  Think of it as monkey Julius Caesar.  For an adventure film, there is a lot of political intrigue.

Though the film has a lot of action in the 3rd Act, it does take some time to get there.  For those expecting some wall-to-wall, action-filled explosion of a summer block-buster, they may be slightly disappointed.  The film slowly builds using characters inflections and not just set action pieces.  It is brilliant in construction the screenplay to an explosive conclusion.  The trio of writers delivers a script that is much more complicated than expected.  It is a grand experience.

Andy Serkis once again proves he is one of the best character actors of his generation.  The man has single-handily has taken the idea of motion capture and turned it into a high-art from.  The combination of CGI and an actor who understands the nuances of the concept is a brilliant blending.  Not for one moment does anyone believe that every simian is not a real.  The entire production team should be commended.

The film is directed by Matt Reeves, the artist behind Let Me In and Cloverfield.   This is easily his best film to date.  He delivers gripping action while still giving the audience Shakespearian drama.  He uses CGI as a tool and not as a means to an end, weaving an emotional yarn along with a solid action piece.  It is an amazing feat of storytelling.

The overall production of the film is stunning.  Every set and character feels real and genuine.  One never doubts for a second that every detail of the film is real and not some computer generated composite.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of the best sequels of 2014 and one of those rare films that is better than its last chapter.  It is a must-see cinema event that will be remembered for years to come.  Easily the best film of the summer.

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